Friday, 22 March 2013

Democratic deficit in the British Union



To their eternal shame the Liberal Democrats are propping-up the Tory Government in London. Without Lib Dem support, the Tory posh-boy millionaires would not be able to hammer the poor through devastating cuts to wages and benefits, the latest of which is the Bedroom Tax.

For their treachery, Scots punished the Liberal Democrats at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election – the party was reduced to just 5 MSPs, losing all its mainland constituencies in the process. Latest Opinion Polls show a similar fate would befall the Liberal Democrats in Scotland if a UK Westminster Election was held tomorrow.

The Tory-led Government at Westminster is carrying out a rabid, right-wing agenda of which Margaret Thatcher would be proud. Under the cloak of ‘having to clear up the economic mess left by Labour’, the Tory-Lib Dem Government has begun dismantling the welfare system that, until now, has provided a safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society in their time of need. Public sector wage rises and uplifts to state benefits have been pegged at 1-percent, which against an inflation rate of around 3-percent represents a real-terms cut, making even poorer some of the people who were already struggling to exist on poverty-level incomes.

At the same time as they will introduce the Bedroom Tax, which punishes tenants in social housing who have a room more in their home than the government says they need, the Tories and Liberal democrats will also cut the rate of tax paid by the richest people in the country – someone on a salary of £1million will instantly be £107,000 a year better off.

The Tories are looking after the rich and punishing the poor, which is what Tories always do. The collapse of global capitalism is simply a convenient excuse. Make no mistake, crisis of capitalism or not, the Tories would be implementing the same policies. The only difference between the administration of David Cameron and the one led in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher is that the current right-wing government is only able to carry out its policies thanks to the support of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

Of course, Tories and Lib Dems argue they are in power as a result of the democratic process. The people voted in 2010 and produced a result where no one party had an overall majority. That was the will of the people, and the resulting Tory-Lib Dem coalition was simply a requirement needed to form a government for the country in light of the inconclusive election result.

The thing is, though, in a democracy, the authority to govern stems from the consent of the people. With the result of the 2010 Westminster Election, it can be argued the Tories emerged as the largest single party, and so have a legitimate right to govern aided by another party. But that argument only holds in relation to Scotland if you consider it to be just a region of Great Britain, rather than a nation in its own right.

At the 2010 UK Westminster Election, in terms of percentage share of all the votes cast, the Liberal Democrats finished in third place in Scotland, and the Tories were fourth. Labour polled in first place with the SNP second. In reality, therefore, Scotland is currently governed from London by two parties that the people soundly rejected through the democratic process. In Scotland, the present UK Tory-Lib Dem administration has no authority to govern because the consent of the people was certainly not given.

However, as things stand at the moment within the current constitutional arrangements of the UK, Scotland is just a region of Great Britain. This means the votes of Scots will always be heavily outnumbered by those cast in England and that we, in Scotland, will always have imposed on us the government for which England votes, irrespective of our wishes as democratically expressed at the ballot box.

We do have the devolved Scottish Parliament and an SNP Government but, again, the current constitutional arrangements within the UK mean that the Edinburgh legislature is, in law, subservient to the parliament in London. The Scottish Parliament has no powers over ‘reserved’ matters, which means the Tory-Lib Dem Government in London still legislates for Scotland in areas such as Defence, Social Security, Foreign Policy and the Military, the Economy, Immigration and Nationality, the Monetary System, Energy, Medical Ethics, and even the Constitution itself. All of this is the case despite the parties that form the UK Government having finished third and fourth in the democratically expressed opinion of the Scottish people.

Actually, just for good measure, the UK legislation that established the devolved Scottish Parliament – the Scotland Act (1998) – contains a clause, the effect of which gives Westminster the power to abolish the Scottish Parliament if it ever saw fit.

Recently, the Labour Party in Scotland has begun to raise its voice in condemnation of welfare cuts imposed by the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Some Labour activists have even taken to Scottish streets, asking people to sign petitions against the Bedroom Tax.

This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party that is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and Liberal Democrats in opposition to independence for Scotland. This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party that tells Scots it would be a ‘disaster’ if we governed our own country. This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party that would rather see Scotland continue to be governed by Thatcherite Tories in London than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland. This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party whose policy for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom means the Tories and Liberal Democrats would continue to be in a position to impose welfare cuts in Scotland.

Some ‘Scottish’ Labour activists argue they oppose the Tories on social policies and only agree with them on the constitution, as if the two were separate issues. The constitution is what gives the Tories (and their Lib Dem lapdogs) the power to impose their devastating social policies on Scotland.

Re-taking our political independence not only means we can govern our country in the interests of the Scottish people, it means the Tories will never again be in a position to impose their will on Scotland.

In an independent Scotland, whichever party is elected to government will have the authority to legislate through the consent of the people. That’s democracy.

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